Mr. Rublee to Mr. Fish.
Berne , March 26, 1873. (Received April 16.)
Sir: The amendment to the constitution of the canton of Geneva, providing that the curés and vicars of the Catholic Church, whose salaries [Page 1085] are paid by the state, shall be chosen by the Catholic citizens inscribed on the list of cantonal electors, was accepted by the popular vote at an election held on Sunday the 23d instant.
Several days previous to the election the mayors of the Catholic communes united in signing and publishing a manifesto, addressed to the Catholic electors, denouncing the proposed amendment in energetic language, and enjoining upon all Catholics to abstain from participation in the election. They asserted, in this address, that the Catholics would never accept such a law, or recognize the right of the state to enact it, and, consequently, that it was the duty of Catholic voters to take no part in the vote upon it. The same policy was strenuously urged by the clergy and by the Catholic journals.
The opponents of the measure, therefore, for the most part, withheld their votes. The result of the election was 9,081 votes for the amendment and 151 against it. The latter were cast chiefly by Protestants, who disapproved of it.
The partisans of the amendment are well content with their success. The largest vote polled at any general election in the canton, when rival parties were warmly contending for the ascendency, has rarely exceeded 11,000, and the whole number of registered voters is only a little more than 16,000. The amendment is, therefore, approved by a considerable majority of the whole body of electors, and by the great majority of those who usually take part in elections. Its most earnest supporters were the Liberal, or Old, Catholics, and the vote indicates, it is said, that this class comprises a much greater proportion of the Catholic population of the canton than has hitherto been supposed.
Throughout Switzerland the Liberal Catholics are forming societies, holding meetings, publishing addresses, and with great energy seeking to mold public sentiment in opposition to the dogma of infallibility and to the influence of the clergy in civil affairs.
The situation in the diocese of Basle has not materially changed. No administrator ad interim of the diocese has yet been named. The bishop, sustained by the clergy with few exceptions, continues to refuse to recognize the authority of the diocesan conference, or the right of the cantonal governments to interfere in the affairs of the Church. The cantonal governments, however, manifest no disposition to abate their pretensions. An inventory of the property in the bishop’s residence was recently made by the government of Soleure, in accordance with the request of the diocesan conference, and Mgr. Lachat will doubtless be expelled from it on or before Easter.
The supporters of the bishop have circulated petitions in the canton of Soleure, addressed to the cantonal government, requesting it to withdraw its adhesion to the action of the diocesan conference, and to call a meeting of the grand council for the purpose of submitting the question to the popular vote. Counter petitions, however, were promptly sent out, and were signed by a majority of the electors. The petitions favorable to the bishop united only about one-third as many signatures as were obtained for those sustaining and approving the action of the government.
The latest incident of importance in the controversy is the suspension by the government of Berne, from the exercise of ecclesiastical functions, of ninety-seven Catholic curés in the Bernese Jura. This district of the canton of Berne is occupied by a population speaking the French language, and almost exclusively Catholic. About two weeks since the cures of the Jura signed and published a protest against the decisions of the diocesan conference relating to the bishop of Basle, and the [Page 1086] action of the government of Berne in-sustaining the conference. They further declared that they would not respect the order of the government forbidding them from holding further official relations with Mgr. Lachat as bishop of Basle.
The government of Berne, as soon as it had taken cognizance of this announcement, issued an order suspending the curés, and dispatched a circular to the prefects of the Jura directing them to take measures at once, with the aid of the police, to prevent the curés from the further exercise of any parochial functions, to withdraw from their keeping the registers of baptisms, marriages, and deaths, and to warn the mayors and municipal councils that any disturbance of the public peace will be promptly suppressed by military force, at the expense of the communes in which disorders may arise. A curé at Bienne, who refused to deliver up the keys of his church, was imprisoned, but, after a few hours’ confinement, delivered them, and was released.
I have, &c.,